Can we use simple design changes in a workplace to improve employee teamwork, communication, and performance? We have talked here several times about some interesting innovations such as aligning the chairs, creativity spaces, and so on.
While it is widely acknowledged that effective communication and knowledge transfer are crucial to an organization’s success, these behaviors are very difficult to measure. Surveys and human observers provide biased, limited views into communication behaviors, which is of little practical usefulness for organizations.
Humanyze wants to take this to a whole new level. You are probably familiar with biometrics; they are developing sociometrics. They use wearable technology to collect data on employee locations, speech patterns, postures, and other factors to model how employees communicate with each other. Who do they interact with and where? How do they speak? Where, when, and how are the best results achieved?
This approach emerged from a PhD dissertation at MIT from Ben Waber who launched Humanyze from his results (I wish I could have done that with my PhD!!). They have 20 clients including some Fortune 500 companies.
For example, Bank of America used sociometrics in their call centers to discover that 80% of their employee interactions occurred during overlaps in breaks. Prior to this insight, they staggered their breaks so that they could align the supply of manpower with the demand in call volume. But when they gave teams the same coffee breaks instead, they found call completion speed went up 23%. Beneficial side effects included a 19% drop in employee stress levels and a reduction in employee turnover from 40% to 12% annually.
The communication pattern analysis can also make recommendations to individuals. They compare the behavioral patterns of high performers and low performers, model the differences, and advise the lower performers what they can do to be more similar to the high performers. This includes simple recommendations such as advising them to speak more at meetings or to move around more. If this were based on individual anecdotes it would be garbage in-garbage out. But with data on tens of thousands of employees, they can make reliable and predictive suggestions.
They also have put some thought into the sociometrics of the design. Employees remain anonymous so they can’t get in trouble for any of their behaviors. The models identity effective behaviors and tell everyone about them. There is also an easy opt-out if an employee doesn’t want to be monitored. They even have dummy badges for them to wear so that no one knows they have opted-out. I thought this one was particularly clever.
Does this resonate with you? Or does it seem like just another false start in the quest for productivity? Perhaps we are all just too different to make generalizations. Perhaps we need strategies mapped to our personal styles rather than to best performers in our groups. Or could sociometrics be aligned with these approaches as well?
Image Credit: Smallworldsocial